By now, were you a Democratic candidate in these elections, you might well have raised welts from the repeated facepalming. From the rise of the Islamic State to Ebola to the embarrassing open-door policy at the White House, everything has conspired to drown out the one piece of good news: that unemployment is at its lowest point for six years, at 5.9%. Even that isn’t a great number, since it looks as if the whole recession is Obama’s fault. Effectively, he has spent his whole term of office digging the country out of the recession caused by the Bush-era deregulation/open slather. People understood that in 2009-10; now they’ve forgotten the argument that the nosediving economy in Obama’s first year was the delayed effect of Bush. Likewise the Iraq War, which is being retrospectively constructed as a victory, until Obama screwed it up.
But what has been most disconcerting in recent weeks and months has been his renewed talent for coming up with disastrous quotes, which Republicans can hang around Democrats’ necks. Obama’s clanger on the Middle East from a few months ago — “well, right at the moment we don’t have a strategy on Syria” — is still playing, and more recently he added to it with the remark that a vote for the Democrats in this election, is a “vote on the Obama record”. Since a number of candidates have no hope of survival but to run from Obama’s record as fast as possible and campaign as local candidates, the remark was, well, facepalm.
The missteps have been particularly felt in the marginal Senate seats that the Democrats have to hold to maintain their majority, which is currently five seats, and a 10-vote margin (55-45). There are 33 (plus three) seats up for grabs, but 23 of them are rock-solid safe. Barring bizarre upsets, 13 seats are in doubt. The bad news for the Democrats is that three of the seats not in doubt for the Republicans are those currently held by the Democrats. A changeover appears so assured that the Dems are three down before they start.
Montana: Max Baucus, a prairie Democrat of decades-long standing decided not to recontest this year, due to both age and the fact of a demographic change (a Mormon influx). The Dems replaced him with John Walsh, a solid western type — and sadly, also a plagiarist, in his dissertation. He withdrew, and the Montana Dems let the Left take the nomination for a race they were going to lose. Amanda Curtis, a Billings maths teacher, has so far been photographed with a Communist party organiser and praised the Industrial Workers of the World (google it). Next week she’s doing a tour of Planned Parenthood offices. It’s going very well.
South Dakota: Also gone for the Democrats, with a four-term incumbent retiring. Tim Johnson was carried through from the early ’90s, when the place still had a centrist northern aspect, to the Dakotas in the millennium, now colonised by fundamentalist Christians and Tea Partiers. Things have moved so far to the Right here that Larry Pressler, the Republican senator here in the 1970s, is running as an independent — but his candidacy is splitting the Democrat-Indepedent vote, making victory impossible.
West Virginia: This state was one of the few to vote for Mike Dukakis, the “elite liberal”, in 1988; a generation later, its poor white voters are, erm, race-shifted to the Republicans. Jay Rockefeller, a six-term Democrat — that’s 36 years, a short tenure in West Virginny — is getting out. Both new candidates for the vacancy in this deeply conservative state are women. Chances of a woman being elected: about 35%. The GOP will romp it in.
Of the mildly competitive but likely solid seats, there’s …
Kentucky: Senate minority leader (i.e. leader of the opposition in the Senate) Mitch McConnell is probably safe here, where he is facing a tougher fight than he expected largely due to the fact that the Tea Party may not turn out, as a vote of no-confidence in the GOP leadership. Still, it’s one to watch because it would be the best upset evah.
Minnesota: Still liberal, but it was once practically socialist. Former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken was elected here by around 80 votes in 2008, after an epic court battle. The Right still say he stole the seat, and his tenure drives them mad. But he hasn’t made a joke since he took the seat, even though, in a V-neck sweater and wool suit, he looks like a comedian playing a senator. Having stuck to local issues, he should consolidate.
Then there’s the toss-ups:
North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas:
It’s a testament to local politics that the Democrats have held these seats for as long as they’ve managed — in a region that votes directly contrary to its own immediate interests, i.e. for the Republicans. North Carolina was the only state which came back to the Republicans from Obama in 2012 (apart from Indiana, which doesn’t count). In NC, Democrat Kay Hagan was elected on the Obama wave of 2008; until about four weeks ago, it looked like she was going to be dumped. Now she has fought back to possible victory, polling about 44% against her slash-and-burn regulations opponent, former speaker of the State House Thom Tillis. Tillis has been hampered by the recent better federal jobs result, the fact that his massive tax cuts in NC didn’t increase growth, and a libertarian candidate once again riding to the Dems’ rescue and snatching an easy 5%.
In Arkansas, the last Democratic state in the deep South, Senator Mark Pryor will probably be turfed as the state goes red Republican from border to border. Louisiana is the most interesting. Having lost 70,000 African-Americans post-Katrina, the state has gone red faster than it otherwise would, and only stalwart campaigner Mary Landrieu has kept it for the Dems by being in ceaseless campaign mode, visiting everyone, everywhere. There are two Republicans — normal and Tea Party — on the ballot, but since there’s a run-off system to a majority, that actually hurts the Democrat. The December run-off may be the point at which control of the Senate is decided.
These are knife-edge states, with incumbent from the great midwestern Democrat family Mark Udall holding the line against the relentless push of the Christian Right, which is heavily quartered in the state. In Iowa, it’s neck-and-neck in the most evenly balanced state in the land. The Democrats may gain an edge from the fact that the GOP in this state is a batshit crazy Tea Party outfit in an otherwise reasonable place, their current candidate having called for not merely the impeachment, but the arrest of Obama for passing ObamaCare into law.
Kansas, Georgia, Alaska:
What’s the matter with Kansas? So the old song goes — one the Republicans are now singing. With a former Democrat running as an independent and a libertarian shaving up to 10% off the Right, the once-safe Republican candidacy of Pat Roberts is now trailing by 10%. If Kansas crosses back, it may be the vote that saves the Senate for the Democrats.
Georgia would be an unlikely but possible gain for the Democrats, with veteran Republican Saxby Chambliss retiring after representing the state since Reconstruction. The Dems are helped by the increasing role of Atlanta as an IT and commercial centre, the Republicans by the fact that about a quarter of the population thinks the Big Bang is a lie by Satan.
If it’s “what’s the matter with Kansas?”, it’s “what the fuck is going on with Alaska?”. Democrat Mark Begich won by a mere 4000 votes in 2008, even though his opponent Ted Stevens, “the father of Alaskan statehood”, had been convicted of multiple fraud felonies. Now Begich and his opponent Joseph Miller have been chasing the vote with a series of ads implying that the other is bad at sledding, and other manly pursuits. It may all swing on who the Alaskan Independence Party takes votes from. Seriously.
Finally, the bellwether, New Hampshire. That the Republicans have come back in this state is a testament to the complacency of the Democratic machine. The Republican candidate is Scott Brown, the onetime male centrefold, who won Teddy Kennedy’s old slot in Boston in the special election after his death — thus losing the Democrats their brief filibuster-proof 60-seat majority (glory days). Now he’s running in New Hampshire, a more libertarian state than most of New England, but one that can usually be persuaded to come back to the fold. Maybe not this time. A combination of Obama-drama disillusion, rightward demographic drift (voluntary exiles from Massachusetts), and Brown’s willingness to visit every town in his pick-up truck (while the Dems, until recently, phoned it in) have made this small contest a test of the election. If the Dems can’t hold New England, they are in serious trouble.
So, the likely scenarios:
One sided Dem wipeout:
Dems lose: MT, SD, WV, AR, LA, KS, NC, and one of CO, IA
Dems lose: MT, SD, WV, AR, LA, and one/two of NC, CO, IA
GOP lose: KS, KY, GA
Total Dem loss: 3-4
RESULT: 51-52(D) – 49-48(R)
Democrats hold the line:
Dems lose: MT, SD, WV, AR, and one of LA, NC, IA, CO
GOP lose: KS, GA, KY
Total Dem loss: 2
RESULT: 53(D) – 47(R)
The third of those is the most attractive, made only less so by the fact that it won’t happen.